The Impact of Wearables on the Research Industry

The Impact of Wearables on the Research Industry

The recent explosion of consumer wearables is a phenomena that dominates the media headlines across all genres including sports, tech, fashion, and personal improvement. What the average consumer is not aware of, is the impact these little devices already have on the research industry and the tremendous potential they have to completely transform how we study humanity’s favorite subject - ourselves. 

Jun 27, 2022
By Tom Hasinski
Researcher standing in front of wall of biometric data

How wearables are impacting research

As an organization that develops research solutions built around the capabilities of wearable devices, we often find ourselves in awe of what’s coming right around the corner. This article documents via statistics and collection of facts just how important these devices are in the realm of medicine as well as health research.

Two people looking at smartwatches while exercising outdoors

Relentless and Accelerating Adoption Growth 

The honor of the very first wearable of the modern era can be argued to no end, but one candidate that has a strong case is the HP-01 multi-function watch launched in 1977. It featured such fancy technologies as Time of Day, Calendar, Alarm and most impressively at the time a calculator. The fact that the watch was sold in jewelry stores and was priced more than a Rolex might have contributed to poor adoption overall sales numbers. Fast forward to today and we have countless super intelligent wearables on the market with sales totaling in the millions.

Here are some highlights: 

  • 533.6 million - total wearable devices shipped in 2021, this number includes hearables, watches, wrist-bands, and other wearables. (source: statista.com)
  • 253 million - smartwatch shipments worldwide are forecast to grow to over 253 million units by 2025. (source: statista.com)
  • 31 million active Fitbit users - In 2020, there were 31 million active users of Fitbit products who used their device at least once a week. (source: statista.com)
  • 18 million active Garmin users - As reported in the Guardian article from January of 2020, there were at the time approximately 18 million Garmin watch users. (source: Strategy Analytics)
  • 30% of Americans use wearable health devices - This is according to a survey conducted by the Journal of Internet Medical Research. (source: NIH.gov)

Image of doctor with various healthcare icons displayed in their hands

Ever Expanding Capabilities of Wearable Devices 

Sensors are at the heart of wearables and are the enablers of all kinds of new applications for consumer wearables.

Below are some key stats about sensors included in some of the newest devices on the market:

Garmin Fenix 7 - 8 sensors

GPS with Glonass and Galileo, Garmin Elevate Wrist Heart Rate Monitor, Barometric Altimeter, Compass, Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Thermometer, Pulse Ox Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor (source: garmin.com)

Fitbit Sense - 9 sensors

3-axis accelerometer, Gyroscope, Altimeter, GPS receiver with GLONASS, Multi-path optical heart rate tracker, Multipurpose electrical sensors compatible with the ECG app and EDA Scan app, On-wrist skin temperature sensor, Ambient light sensor, Microphone (source: help.fitbit.com)

Apple Watch - 10 sensors

GPS/GNSS, Compass, Always-on altimeter, Blood oxygen sensor, Electrical heart sensor, Third-generation optical heart sensor, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Ambient light sensor, Microphone (source: apple.com)

Oura Ring - 3 sensors

Infrared photoplethysmography sensors (PPG) for heart rate and respiration, Negative temperature coefficient (NTC) sensor for body temperature, 3D accelerometer for movement (source: ouraring.com)

Whoop - 4 sensors

SPO2 sensor, temperature sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, optical heart rate sensor, accelerometer (source: arstechnica.com)

Specialized Wearables for Researchers and Medical Professionals

There are also a myriad of companies big and small that have developed very specialized wearable devices to help researchers and medical professionals assess the condition of their patients.

Here are just a few applications: 

Wireless Brain EEG by EMOTIV

Companies like EMOTIV are developing headsets that help researchers observe spatial and temporal brain activity, record different emotional experiences and capture a myriad of other brain recordings. (source: emotiv.com

Seizure Monitoring by Empatica

Wearable devices like Empatica’s Embrace can help continuously monitor patients with epilepsy and provide instant alerts to their caregivers. (source: empatica.com

Muscle Analysis via Wearable Ultrasound Devices 

Companies like Usono are utilizing devices to provide high-quality ultrasound measurements during dynamic exercise for the purpose of researching muscle therapy and performance. (source: usono.com

top half of face shown with futuristic imagery

The Future of Wearable Devices in the Realm of Health Monitoring

Technology development is not slowing down anytime soon and device manufacturers are racing to outpace each other by integrating ever more sensors and capabilities into their future devices.

The following are some emerging technologies which we may see integrated into future releases of wearable devices or which may be utilized in other ways to monitor patients or research study participants: 

Continuous Glucose Monitoring

Companies like Dexcom and Eversense have already developed continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices. There are rumors about integrating sugar level sensors into the next generation of smartwatches. (source: medium.com)

Breath Analysis

In a very compelling presentation Dr Noushin Nasiri discusses the potential and use cases of analyzing our tears, sweat, saliva, and breath to determine blood sugar levels or discover early signals of disease. (source: Dr. Noushin Nasiri Ted Talk

Ocular and Systemic Condition Monitoring via Contact Lenses

Whether to monitor the contents of our tears or to measure the ocular pressure, there are currently a multitude of sensors being investigated for integration into contact lenses for non-invasive monitoring capabilities. (source: frontiersin.org)

Last medically reviewed on
Tom Hasinski
Tom Hasinski
Labfront Contributor

Tom is fascinated by the impact wearable devices play in our daily lives and their contributions in the realm of health research. When he's not working, he's probably gone running, sometimes far.

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